Let's call this “Standing in the shower and thinking," before I head to Boston.
About the Cardinals . . .
1. After the World Series Game 5 loss to Jon Lester and the Red Sox, there was a lot of talk about the Cardinals' vanishing offense, and why it's happening. For the most part, Cardinals' hitters pointed to the quality of the pitching that they're facing in the postseason, in the World Series.
And absolutely, that's a factor. The Cardinals have taken on some terrific pitchers this month. That's to be expected, because they're facing the best teams. And the best teams will have very good pitching.
This rationalization only goes so far, however. They don't get a free pass on this stuff. In particular, the Cardinals' bewilderment in facing lefthanded pitchers is beyond ludicrous. It should be unacceptable, really.
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Including the postseason the Cardinals are batting .235 against lefties this season; that ranks 27th among the 30 teams. They also rank 28th in onbase percentage (.297) and 29th in slugging (.362) vs. LH.
There's no good reason for that. Yes, Lester is an outstanding pitcher. But remarkably, opponents managed to win 15 games started by Lester this season. And he did give up runs. Lester is quite good, but so is Clayton Kershaw, and the Cardinals beat him four times this season. And they clobbered Kershaw in the clinching Game 6 of the NLCS.
The 2013 Cardinals have been held down offensively, and lost games, to LH starting pitchers such as Barry Zito, Erik Bedard, Tony Cingrani, Jonathon Niese, Ted Lilly and Chris Rusin. Their names won't appear on the list of votes received in the Cy Young balloting for 2013.
Frankly, that's why I don't want to hear the “We're facing some really good pitching” justification. This has been a problem all season. And it's happened against some really mediocre lefthanders.
I would hope that the Cardinals take a long, serious look at this issue during the offseason. When facing lefthanders, is their approach flawed? Do they need to mix in a different type of hitter? Is it in their heads? What are batting coaches John Mabry and Bengie Molina doing about this? What solutions have been tried? Why are so many Cardinals' righthanded hitters so vulnerable to cutters thrown by lefties? Sure, the cutter can be an effective pitch. OK, so why do other teams have success against the cutter? The organization needs to find some answers to the question.
2. Can the Cardinals win two games in Boston? That's the wrong question. I'm sorry to sound like a manager, but Mike Matheny (and the players) are correct when they say that their focus should be on Game 6, and on Game 6 only. The Cardinals can't go into Boston thinking, 'How do we get two wins at Fenway Park.” Keep it simple. Because unless they win Game 6, there is no Game 7. The Cardinals have to go into Fenway, hope to get one more terrific start from Michael Wacha, take much better at-bats, and empty themselves while doing everything possible to win Wednesday's game.
VIDEO: BERNIE ON CARDS' OUTLOOK
3. About Game 5 … the contrasting offensive styles made a real difference in the outcome. The Red Sox were able to push Adam Wainwright into fatigue, then pounced on him for the two decisive runs in the seventh inning. The Cardinals didn't make Jon Lester work, and he breezed through 7.2 innings with plenty left in the tank. The Cardinals' starter wore down; the Red Sox starter stayed strong.
Through six innings, Wainwright threw 86 pitches. Lester threw only 69. And the Red Sox got to Wainwright in the seventh, with the light-hitting Stephen Drew fighting off Waino for a walk that became a crucial moment in the game's most important inning.
The Cardinals never got to Lester. After giving up Matt Holliday's homer in the fourth, Lester retired 13 of the next 14 batters and needed only 46 pitches to do so. That's an average of 3.28 pitches per plate appearance.
Through five games, the Red Sox have seen 719 pitches; the Cardinals have seen 667. The Red Sox are averaging 4.02 pitches seen per plate appearance; that matches their MLB-leading rate during the regular season. The Cardinals have seen 3.69 pitches per plate appearance. That may not seem like a big difference, but it adds up over the course of the game.
The Red Sox also got to Lance Lynn in the sixth inning of Game 4 by extending their at-bats during a 29-pitch fifth inning. Matheny probably pulled the plug on Lynn sooner than he should have in the sixth, but after the game Matheny talked abut being concerned over the effects of that 29-pitch inning on Lynn.
The Red Sox won two consecutive games at Busch by pushing Cardinals' starters to their limit — or at least near-limit. And that's a key reason why this series turned on St. Louis so suddenly.
The methodical Boston way will represent a real challenge for Wacha in Game 6. The Red Sox ran up his pitch count in Game 2, and Big Papi Ortiz slammed a two-run homer off him in the sixth for a 2-1 lead. But the Cardinals rallied for three runs in the seventh and the bullpen made a 4-2 lead stand up for the win. The Red Sox will be looking to jack up Wacha's pitch count again in Game 6.
As we've all written many times over the last week or so, the Red Sox are patient. They work the counts. They try to win the little individual battles against the pitcher, get the count in their favor, and swing the bat. They're also very pleased to take walks, because walks put a runner on base, and walks drive up a pitcher's pitch count.
The Cardinals don't extend at-bats as well as the Red Sox. That's because of their philosophy of being aggressive early in the count when offered pitches in the strike zone. That approach has worked well for the Cardinals all season; my point isn't to knock it. But at least through the first five games of the World Series, the Boston style is working better than the St. Louis style. And this isn't about batting average and hitter stats; this is about grinding the opposing starter to see if you can weaken him, then get to him, at the key moments of the game.
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